A primer on Tom Vilsack, Obama’s choice for ag sec

Vilsack230 Former Iowa Governor Tom J. Vilsack, 58, will be introduced this morning as President-elect Barack Obama's nominee for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.  There are thousands of stories in the Radio Iowa archive about Vilsack.  I'll provide links to some in order to provide a bit of biography and background.

In May of 2004, Radio Iowa ran a nine-part series of stories profiling Vilsack because John Kerry, the presumptive 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, was considering Vilsack as a potential running mate.  Here are the segments of that series:

    Tom Vilsack, the accidental politician? –  If you look at Tom Vilsack's resume, it looks like a flow chart that a college professor would use to illustrate how to move up the political ranks. Vilsack was elected his town's mayor three times, then he won a seat in the state legislature which he held for five years. Vilsack followed that with two successful campaigns for governor…

    Vilsack: the state senate years – Tom Vilsack was elected to the state Senate in 1992 and tackled complicated issues, like tinkering with the formula used to calculate how much businesses pay into the state's unemployment compensation fund. Vilsack tried to find some middle ground in the brewing controversy over large-scale livestock operations…

    Vilsack:  the 1998 campaign for governor – 1998 was a big year in Iowa politics. Republican Governor Terry Branstad was not seeking re-election after 16 years in the job. Two democrats launched campaigns for governor — Tom Vilsack and Mark McCormick, a Des Moines attorney who had been a justice on Iowa's Supreme Court. During that campaign, Vilsack cast himself as the champion of the little guy…

    Vilsack:  weathering the storms – In January of 1999, Tom Vilsack was sworn in as Iowa's 40th governor. Republicans Bob Ray and Terry Branstad had been governor for 30 years, and Vilsack offended statehouse Democrats and the state workers union that had backed him when he chose to keep many of the administrators who'd been working for the previous Republican governor…

    Vilsack's brushes with disaster – Once he became governor, it sometimes seemed as if Tom Vilsack might not survive the experience. Early in his first term, Vilsack traveled to the far east on a trade mission, and wound up in the midst of an earthquake in Taiwan. "I had rosary beads next to my bed," Vilsack said. "I grabbed them and I just said a prayer…

    Vilsack:  "I like governing." – …"Do you like campaigning?" Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson asked. Vilsack laughed. "I like governing and I like campaigning in terms of meeting people, going out and talking to folks, shaking hands, visiting with them, finding out what's on their mind," Vilsack replied. "There are other aspects of campaigning that, you know, I could do without."

    Vilsack accomplishments, legacy – Governor Tom Vilsack will leave his mark on Iowa because of two major programs. The first, called Vision Iowa, hands out state grants for construction of major community attractions like the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines and the Mississippi River Museum complex in Dubuque… 

    Vilsack, the speechmaker – …"Many believe that elections are about winning and indeed that is an important aspect of any election, but more fundamental than winning is the fight — what it is that you fight for, who you fight for and what you stand for," Vilsack said during a speech in 2002…

    Vilsack counts labor as an asset – …"It's very helpful that he's a policy wonk because that's what we end up dealing with is policies and how they impact our members and the services we provide," AFSCME Council 61 president Jan Corderman said during an interview with Radio Iowa.

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Tom Vilsack as US Ag Secretary?

A few media outlets are publishing lists of folks who may wind up in an Obama Administration.  Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is mentioned by The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine as in consideration for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

Now, you Iowans, quit laughing.  Vilsack's a smart guy and while he never farmed, he can tell the difference between a soybean plant and a corn stalk.  I'm not sure ag policy is his preferred cup of tea, though.  He was heavily involved in energy-related issues during his tenure as governor, so Secretary of Energy seems a more likely scenario to Iowa political observers.  While he was governor Vilsack signed into law a bill which made Iowa a much more attractive place to build power plants, for example, and — today — Vilsack probably knows more about the intricacies of the nation's power grid than about the WTO's Doha negotiations and their impact on American agriculture. 

Vilsack, a practicing lawyer, is on MidAmerican Energy's board of directors and tomorrow (Thursday, November 6) the president of MidAmerican Energy will be at Harvard — at Vilsack's invitation.  Vilsack is a "fellow" at Harvard's Kennedy School this semester and he's invited MidAmerican's Greg Abel to talk about "the need for a comprehensive energy policy that smartly addresses climate change."  The Harvard announcement is here.

Vilsack, as you may recall, ran for president, dropped out in February, 2007, then endorsed Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House.  When it became clear Obama had secured the delegates necessary to win the nomination in June of 2008, Vilsack was among the first Clintonites to publicly endorse Obama.  In the past few months, Vilsack has often appeared in the media to make the case for Obama's candidacy.  (It seemed like Vilsackwas on FOX News almost once a week this summer and fall, engaging in verbal banter with Neil Cavuto.)  Vilsack was deployed by the Obama campaign in Iowa, too. 

Iowa gave you today’s candidates

Much has been made of Barack Obama's victory in the January 3, 2008 Iowa Caucuses.  The Reader's Digest Condensed Version:  Obama's victory dealt Hillary Clinton a loss that killed the idea she was the "inevitable" nominee.  In an interview with Radio Iowa this summer, Obama described Caucus Night as "lift-off" for his campaign.

While Clinton was focusing on experience, Obama (and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards) focused on the idea of building a movement. On the afternoon of the Iowa Democratic Party's 2007 Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Obama outlined that "movement" idea for a crowd of his supporters.

"…It's with your power, it's with your voices that we're going to be able to make a difference," Obama todl the crowd that day in Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines. "…One voice can change a room and if it can change a room, it can change a city and if it can change a city, it can change a state and if it can change a state, it can change a nation.  If it can change a nation, it can change a world.  Your voice can change the world…Let's go change the world."

On to the Republican side. Iowa Republicans tossed aside two party heavyweights in favor of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee's populist message.  Huckabee, like Obama, was a "movement" candidate.  Huckabee's victory dealt a blow to the well-financed Mitt Romney who had hoped an opening victory in the Iowa Caucuses would propel him through the contests to come. The Iowa results also confirmed that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was not acceptable to a significant chunk of rank-and-file Republicans. 

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Palin in Des Moines, Iowa

Below is a "live blog" of Palin's rally in Des Moines on Saturday, October 25, 2008.

Some familiar rally songs were played as the large crowd filed in, with the song "Hip to be Square" thrown in the mix. Dave Roederer, Iowa chairman of McCain's Iowa campaign, was first to the microphone and first to mention the name of "Joe the Plumber." 

Aaron Tippin, a country music artist, was introduced to the crowd. "God bless you for comin' out today," Tippin said, adding McCain/Palin are the team "to straighten some things out" in DC. Holding a guitar, Tippin began singing "You've Got To Stand for Something."  When he got to the chorus a third time, the crowd began clapping in time to the music.

"I wasn't one of those guys born with a silver spoon in my mouth," Tippin told the crowd, adding that's why he remembers what the "real people" are doing out in America.  "There Ain't Nothing Wrong With The Radio" is his second song.  

I got here before the singing began, in time to chat with the folks who are leaned up against the metal rail that divides the crowd from the media holding pen. I ran into a man and wife who "agree to disagree" as she's a McCain supporter and he caucused for Joe Biden back on January 3rd.  Nearby were two elderly women from Ames, Iowa — neighbors who caucused for Hillary Clinton in January.  They've already voted:  for Obama/Biden Genni Ricke explained why they are here:  "Curiosity.  To take her picture."

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Prominent Hillary Clinton backer on Palin phenom

Bonnie Campbell — the former Iowa Attorney General/prominent attorney/the administrator of the Violence Against Women office in the U.S. Department of Justice during the Clinton administration and Iowa Democratic Party chair from 1987 to 1991 — is one of the guests on this weekend’s edition of "Iowa Press."  Campbell’s appearance, alongside David Miles — the president of the Board of Regents, focused mostly on the University of Iowa sexual assault investigation and university-related issues.  The last part of the program, however, featured this back-and-forth among me, Campbell and David Yepsen of The Des Moines Register.  Subject matter:  Sarah Palin.

Henderson: "In 1994, Bonnie Campbell was the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor."

Campbell: "I remember that, yes."  (Laughter)

Henderson: "And then this past cycle in the Iowa Caucuses you were a keen supporter of Hillary Clinton.  What do you think of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin?"

Campbell: "Well, I don’t know exactly what to think of the very positive response to her because I’m not a Republican and I’m not supporting her, but let me say that from the perspective of a feminist to have clearly a strong individualist, pioneer, pioneering woman on the Republican ticket is historic with or without my support of her."

Yepsen:  "One of the reasons — we’re into politics; we always do that on this show."  (laughter) 

Campbell:  "It’s gotta be."

Yepsen:  "Well, one of the reasons John McCain picked her was an effort to attract Hillary Clinton supporters.  Now, as one of the leading Hillary Clinton suporters in Iowa, did he succeed?

Campbell: "Well, not with me, no."

Yepsen: "Do you see Clinton people now going over to McCain/Palin as a result of that decision."

Campbell: "I don’t and I keep looking at polling data that suggests that white women are supporting McCain. My theory about what’s happening — I’m not a pollster, as you know — is that those are probably independents who made choices based on other things, but for me to imagine that philosophically people who supported Hillary Clinton because of her experience and her background and her political perspective would support someone who is ideologically the opposite seems a huge stretch."

Yepsen:  "We have about 20 seconds left. Is Barack Obama going to be able to carry this state?"

Campbell: "Yes, significantly."

Yepsen:  "Why do you say that?"

Campbell:  *We know him.  It reminds me of 1988.   That was mentioned earlier.  I just think that Iowa seems to like him and we’re well organized.  We’ve registered more Democrats.  It ought to be a very good year. We could determine the presidency."

Biden — in Des Moines, Iowa — says McCain health care ideas a “bridge to nowhere”

"Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get serious.  As Barack said, ‘What do they think we are, completely stupid?’  Completely stupid that they’re going to change the way things are when in fact they say nothing, nothing," Joe Biden said of the messages delivered by John McCain and Sarah Palin at the RNC in St. Paul last week.  "…John has this great idea.  He’s going to give every American a $5000 tax credit which is going to encourage every employer to say, ‘Well, now I can drop health insurance,’ but the average cost of every plan is $12,000 and that’s what I call a bridge to nowhere, an absolute bridge to nowhere. That is a bridge too far."

Listen to Biden’s 35 minute speech (mp3 at bottom of page).

What follows is a live blog of Biden’s appearance in DSM, IA:

Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden is due in Des Moines at an event on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in about an hour.  It’s his first trip back to Iowa since he was revealed as Obama’s pick for a running mate.  It’s also his first stop back in Iowa since the January 3rd Caucuses.

The venue is a large, barn-like structure in which baby animals are housed during the 11-day run of the State Fair.  An American flag has been suspended along the northern third of the western wall.  About 300 chairs have been set out; all but a few have been occupied an hour before the event is to start.  A long line of folks waited along the outside of the building, in the rain, until they were allowed entry shortly before two o’clock.

The campaign soundtrack includes some of the familiar songs, including the song "Move Along" by the All-American Rejects. "…Move along, move along like I know you do; And even when your hope is gone; Move along, move along just to make it through; Move along; (Go on, go on, go on, go on)’ When everything is wrong we move along; (Go on, go on, go on, go on); When everything is wrong, we move along; Along, along, along."

At 2:30 p.m., the crowd is asked to rise for prayer.  A woman who I don’t think identified herself Reverend Angie Witmer of Plymouth Congregational Church in Des Moines is at the microphone  "…Be with all those who work, day after day, to change the world, one person, one moment at a time…Remind us that changing the world isn’t something that other people do.  It’s up to all of us…May we all feel your presence…May what we see and hear and experience here today set our hearts on fire…Together, with one another and with you, we can change the world.  May it be so.  Amen."

Next, the crowd rose to recite the Pledge.  A brief interlude of audience kibitzing fills the air with chatter from the crowd, then it’s back to the campaign soundtrack.  "Ain’t no stoppin’ us now," a 1970ss disco hit from McFadden & Whitehead, is next up on the play list.

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In the front row at Invesco

Latest dispatch from Jenni Lee, Obama’s Iowa campaign spokeswoman: "Hi – I wanted to let you know that Iowa will be well represented in the front row of Invesco tonight.  Some of Senator Obama’s hardest working Iowa supporters – Jan Bauer of Ames, Peggy Whitworth of Cedar Rapids and Nancy Bobo of Des Moines – have front row seats to Senator Obama’s speech."

Nancy Bobo was featured in a Radio Iowa story that aired/was published this afternoon.

….Nancy Bobo of Des Moines was among the first to volunteer to work for Obama’s campaign. Back in February of 2007, a week before Obama officially entered the race, Bobo showed up at the Obama campaign office in Iowa. She met with the two Obama staff members.

"It was a tiny little office with a folding table, two folding chairs, two laptops," Bobo says. "When we met that day, it was just Paul and Emily and they were interrupted repeatedly with phone calls of the first staff arriving in Iowa."

Back then, some dismissed Obama’s campaign as folly, since Hillary Clinton was seen as a shoo-in. "She certainly was," Bobo says. "I remember when we were 45 points down last summer at one point and this hope we speak of didn’t look so apparent on the horizon and, you know, there were just so many people who worked so hard to get to this point."

Bobo’s relieved Obama has secured her party’s presidential nomination, but she’s looking ahead to the general election. "I’m here for the full ride, to the end of it," Bobo says. "We’re going to work as hard as we can to make sure this happens in November."

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Obama campaign chief of staff on polling, enthusiasm

You may have already read of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s chat with Iowans here or here.  Other highlights of the morning meeting of Ioaw Democrats attending the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver included former Governor Tom Vilsack starting things off by calling Iowa Democrats “game changers” because they voted for Barack Obama over his candidate, Hillary Clinton and he reminded them the game isn’t over ’til November.  State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald talked about unity in broader terms: “It isn’t just, ‘OK, gosh, I guess I’ll go vote for Barack.’ It means we’ve got really dig in and help the whole Democratic ticket.  You know, it’s important to elect those down-ballot offices.  I know because I am one.”

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller told the Democrats McCain.2008 isn’t McCain.2000: “He was somewhat of a maverick, but he’s not that person anymore.”

Jim Messina, Obama campaign chief of staff, spoke for about 8 and a half minutes. Listen here/download mp3  “Im not the public speaker in the group, so we’ll try this,” Messina said to open. “…I want to make very clear that Barack Obama is commited to Iowa as the first in the way we elect the president.” 

He talked about the electoral map in detail.  “Let’s do some math,” Messina said.  When Messina got to Arizona: “If Senator McCain continues to be the schmuck he’s being, we’re going to play there, you know, and go tell some truth.”

Here are some other nuggetts from Messina:

  • “As of this morning, we have 2504 staff.” 
  • “We actually have four phD statisticians on our staff in Chicago that do nothing all day but crunch numbers.”
  • “The national polls don’t matter to us.  We don’t look at them in Chicago.  We focus on the 18 states we have to have to win this election.”
  • “We care more about the enthusiasm gap in the campaign in the daily polling than we do the head-to-head.”

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HRC speech at DNC mentions Iowans

Others will comment on the speech in its entirety, and on the orange pantsuit.  I will merely point out that of the handful of personal stories Hillary Rodham Clinton recounted from her campaign travels, two were of people she met in Iowa.  Here is the section of her speech, from the prepared text:

"…I will always remember the single mom who had adopted two kids with autism, didn’t have health insurance and discovered she had cancer. But she greeted me with her bald head painted with my name on it and asked me to fight for health care.

"I will always remember the young man in a Marine Corps t-shirt who waited months for medical care and said to me: “’Take care of my buddies; a lot of them are still over there….and then will you please help take care of me?’"

The cancer patient was Mary Worden-Fiedler of Sioux City.  Clinton’s campaign blog mentions the moment.  The marine was from Sioux Center, Iowa, according to a source who knows.

Democratic Change Commission

As expected, the Democratic National Convention’s Rules Committee endorsed a resolution which calls for creation of a "Democratic Change Commission" to address key issues in the presidential selection process, including the mechanics of caucuses.  (Iowa and 17 other states held caucuses this year.)  The commission is also to address the issue of "super" or uncommitted delegates.

Kirk Watson, a state senator in Texas, told the Rules Committee the commission would have 35 members and two co-chairs who will be appointed by the next Democratic National Committee chairman.  A new DNC chairman will be elected next year, after the election.  Current DNC chair Howard Dean left the Rules Committee meeting before discussion of the commission.  Four Iowa reporters who’re in Denver — Rod Boshart and Todd Dorman of The Cedar Rapids Gazette; Tom Beaumont of the Des Moines Register and yours truly caught up with Dean as he was walking to an escalator outside the Rules Committee meeting room.

"What position do you think Iowa will have after the commission has met?" Henderson asked (that would be me).

"I don’t know," Dean replied, concluding his brisk walk toward the escalator and climbing aboard the conveyance as he added: "We don’t even have a commission yet."

Former South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges, speaking on behalf of the Obama campaign, told the crew of Iowa reporters he expects Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to be "first" contests in 2012.  However, Hodges said the goal is to ensure none of those contests are held before February 1, 2012 — and then no other state would have a contest before March 5, 2012. 

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